Last night, during the A Sors performance, our Master of Ceremonies, Norma, told us all about the “trust fall” that was performed, many years ago, by the Freemasons—right there in the very same room in the north alcove of the Lodge at the Regency on Sutter Street here in San Francisco.
Norma described how, at the hour of initiation, the Freemason candidate would be blindfolded, and how a noose would be placed around his neck. Of his own volition, the candidate would then jump into an opening in the floor … and his cloaked brethren would catch him, saving his life.
Maximilian I reigned as Emperor of Mexico from 1864 through 1867, when he was executed. His death yielded countless conspiracy theories, making him something like a 19th-century John F. Kennedy. Some of these theories have Maximilian cheating death by bribery, while others have him ferreted across the border by supporters. Many of the theories focus on the supposed participation by Masons, also known as Freemasons: a centuries-old fraternal order that connects dignitaries and bankers, judges and landowners, politicians and clerics around the world. It is a semi-secret society that is famed for its self-mythologizing and for its richly coded iconography, and it remains to this day a lightning rod for paranoid political fantasists.
It is June 19, 1867. Summer has begun. With the change of seasons, the days will begin to get shorter as well as warmer. There is work to be done. There are fields to be tended, but today is a holiday. To the Catholics of Querétaro, Mexico, it is a religious festival, the Fête-Dieu. In a few hours, the date will become associated with another, more sorrowful occasion. For today, Maximilian will die: Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph of Austria, or, to the people of Mexico these past three eventful years, Emperor Maximilian. Today is a holiday, and it will henceforth be a mournful one.
We could see a crowd gathered ahead on the road. Pickups and cars had pulled over in haste, partially blocking traffic. Something was wrong.
It’s a Saturday in Bodega, California, and my father and I are taking a lazy walk after lunch. There’s no wind. The air is clean, a touch of sea salt and eucalyptus. Based on the shadows, it must be around two in the afternoon.